Ask Sam Mailbag: Questions about the Clippers, Zach LaVine, NBA trade rumors, and more

Sam Smith answers a full mailbag as the NBA playoffs reaches the Conference Finals
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later

Body

Mike Sutera:

Several Clippers reportedly had trouble playing stints longer than three minutes in Game 7 and asked to be pulled for a breather during the fourth quarter, Paul George and Montrezl Harrell supposed had 'heated' Exchange. Hey, maybe Kawhi Leonard should have stayed in Toronto. So now what's standing between LBJ and another title is the Nuggets and either Heat or Celts. Not much?

Sam Smith:

That's right, here we go again with the GOAT debate. You know, did Michael ever win a title by winning every game on the road? Ok, that's for next month.

But there's two little-discussed factors that seem to be figuring mightily in the playoffs and perhaps explaining these upsets: No home court advantage and no fans. To me it drastically levels the playing field and emboldens younger and less experienced players. So Jamal Murray can substantially surpass his career levels—perhaps it's his breakthrough, though we will see—and those young guys with Miami can take (and make) those seemingly questionable three pointers. So it's perhaps less surprising than the verdict of history that the top two East seeds are out already. And the favorite among many, the Clippers. Home court advantage, supposedly the playoff goal over a long season, was wiped out, which certainly impacted the Bucks and perhaps the Raptors with their manic local support. Home court has the highest winning percentage in basketball because it's the biggest energy sport, and energy often is cerated by those home patrons. Plus many more players than you think get more nervous not only in the playoffs but in front of vocal fans. Perhaps Herro or Duncan Robinson hesitates on one of those one-on-four pullup threes on a less friendly court with fans feet away reminding them how stupid that shot was. Now you watch the games and have no idea who should have had home court, the NBA's unsuccessful attempt at mimicking home response unavailing.

So despite the recommendations from the media, I wouldn't give up quite yet if I were the Clippers. They clearly weren't as prepared as Denver with the long campus and injury absences of Harrell, Beverley and Williams. And Leonard and George weren't mature enough, as James will be, to be prepared. Many are blaming coach Doc Rivers, but the ethic with stars these days given their mobility is as Chuck Daly used to say, you hope they'll let you coach them. Some of the problem obviously was the way George and Leonard decided to ease through the regular season and obviously didn't care to practice much to save their bodies. We'll see how much Durant and Irving allow Steve Nash to be more than a former famous player. So neither star was as ready and determined as they needed to be and thus no coincidence they blew every second half lead. And that they wouldn't practice never apparently enabled the reserves, who were last year's stars, to figure out how to play with them.

Though I will fault Doc for one thing. He seemed to have borrowed Jim Boylen's defensive plan of trapping the pick and roll. Not a great idea when you have a player like Nikola Jokic so deft at playmaking. He cut up the Clippers. We favored them—yes, me too—because of their individual defenders. Are you telling me Leonard couldn't take Murray one on one and cancelled out that play, which the Clippers couldn't defend? So, yes, the runway looks clear now for LeBron. You know as serious as he is and how he stays in such great shape he's not going to relax with a championship he can now see so clearly.


DeAaron Fox

Darrin Shadid:

I'd love to see the Bulls get DeAaron Fox from the Kings in a trade. He would solve the point guard concerns. Do you think the Kings would trade him?

Sam Smith:

Who wouldn't? Fox is easily their best player and would solve a lot of issues for a lot of teams. They've been on the verge of going somewhere for years and never seem to. Now it's if Marvin Bagley can ever get healthy. They got a new GM this week, one of those Houston guys apparently dedicated to the video game three-point culture overrunning the game. You know if they had Shaq they'd have him shooting threes. But they did add Joe Dumars in an advisory role. And he was the one who actually began this 6-8 center craze with Ben Wallace. Could there yet be hope for the Kings? Whatever it becomes it figures still to be built around Fox.


Chris Paul

Jake Henry:

Bulls get Chris Paul plus whatever 1st rounder they have. Thunder get 4 pick, Lauri, Felicio, Thad Young or (is that enough for a salary match, if not then Otto Instead of Felicio and we get a second rounder or something to compensate?). The Bulls need a guy who understands the game and can play on or off the ball to elevate Zach's game to the next level. He would instantly improve the Bulls defense, decision making and competitiveness.

Sam Smith:

Chris Paul had his best season in years with, I think, more late game big shots and plays than anyone in the NBA. The Thunder led the league in close fourth quarter wins. Now thanks to basically all the Clippers draft picks through the end of the century they seem to be going into rebuild mode. So the Clippers better try to remain competitive. We all believe the Bulls almost will just be better because. My sense is given Paul's age he wants that last chance to win now. The Bulls could be better, but they don't project quite yet like the White Sox. There's been talk already the Bucks could be interested in Paul to take the pressure off Giannis, and take the pressure off them regarding Giannis' extension. Paul makes more than $40 million in each of the next two seasons, he is going on 36 before the next playoffs and until being healthy this season has a long history of injuries, averaging missing at least a quarter of the season the previous three years. For the short term, Paul would be a huge upgrade. My sense is Karnisovas has a longer range view.


Lauri Markkanen

Stian Nordvik:

A move worthy would be that the Bulls should trade Markkanen and Thad Young and move Wendell Carter Jr. to the power forward position. Could they get some decent draft picks for them? They need more speed at the power forward position to cope with line ups like Celtics, Rockets, Miami and the Clippers. A big man are very much needed as well. Although you don`t, I like Drummond, I believe he would help toughen the Bulls up. I would go for Montrezl Harris as back up and one of the Morrisses as backup power forward. I would have gotten Rondo at all cost to mentor White. For starters I would have played Dunn, Lavine, Porter Jr, Carter Jr and Drummond. Valentine, Morris Sr., White, Harrell, Hutchison, Harrison off the bench.

Sam Smith:

You have a lot more money to spend than the Bulls, who basically are out of serious free agency until after next season. Trade Markkanen? No. I know we love to judge based on what we saw yesterday, and Markkanen had a tough season. Which, of course, vastly lessons his value and teams will look to "steal" him. I'm sure Karnisovas and Eversley realize that and even if they are not high on him, which we don't know, they know they need to enhance his value.

Let's not forget those first two seasons when Markkanen was All-Rookie First Team and putting up some huge numbers against young stars like Porzingis. He seems like a person who likes to please and I expect a more demanding coaching presence that he'll embrace. It's actually small forward where the Bulls need that speed and power. Though these playoffs are something of an aberration, a team like Boston is a good example with three or four high level wing players, like Tatum, Brown and Hayward. That's where the league seems to be heading and a position that's exceptionally weak for the Bulls. Until the league heads in a different direction depends on who wins next.


Wes Unseld Jr. with Mike Malone

Tom Golden:

I read a nice article about Wes Unseld Jr., Mike Malone certainly gave him the credit for the historic comebacks.

Sam Smith:

Now if he gives him Jokic... I can't see the coaching search lasting all that long as the Bulls supposedly winnow the list this week. My guess is Unseld is a finalist, but along with several others and with no particular advantage other than having already had Karnisovas' cell phone number. It still comes down to whether Karnisovas prefers someone with previous NBA head coaching experience, which the Bulls haven't had in their last three coach hirings. Or someone less experienced but fresh faced to grow with. I'm just as curious to see the direction he takes.


Zach LaVine

Devin Antus:

Do you think they will trade Zach? Because he is awesome and he is like our main man we should be building around.

Sam Smith:

I think LaVine is one of the players who suffered most from being left out of the bubble/campus/AdamWorld. With the emphasis on offense and three point shooting in Orlando, LaVine could have put up huge numbers and burnished his star status like Donovan Mitchell, Tatum and Murray did. Zach showed he could with some of the best scoring performances of the season. Remember 13 threes? Remember that pre-AllStar you-voters-are-making-a-mistake run of averaging more than 30 points over a dozen games and three times more than 40?

It's fashionable among some Bulls fans to demean LaVine's play and accomplishments because of the team's record, which I understand however erroneous it may be. You know, I understand your point and it's well taken. It's just that you're wrong! I suspect the new management understands Zach's value, that someone who averages 25 points isn't easy to replace or come by and it's been done by only three players in franchise history before Zach, Bob Love, Michael Jordan and Derrick Rose. Often people don't realize how good someone was, be it a player, employer or spouse, until they opt for someone else. Plus, the concept of building around a player has taken a hit at least in these playoffs with Giannis and Kawhi out unceremoniously despite excellent supporting casts and teams with multiple top players, if not so called superstars, mostly still playing. I see the Bulls moving forward with and around Zach.


Paul George

Elijah Humble:

A lot will be called into question regarding the Clips, but to me the biggest question is, is Paul George for real? It's hard to consider him an elite player, after forcing his way out of Indiana (never a fan of guys who do that, and they actually did just fine without him), putting up decent empty numbers and disappearing the playoffs at OKC, to now not even being a factor in the biggest game 7 of his life. Kawhi also blanked out (perhaps wishing he stayed in Toronto, and he's got his 2 rings) but George is supposed to be this 2-way beast yet seems to have little real impact. Is he a 3rd banana now? Not much of a 2nd option. I know much will be said about possible depression in the bubble and all that but other players and teams have figured it out. I almost feel bad for Doc Rivers, who looked like he'd seen a ghost when interviewed in the 4th quarter; he knew what was about to happen.

Sam Smith:

Maybe we'll hear about injuries, family problems at home, late deliveries of the takeout chicken wings. The Clippers are in everyone's crosshairs now.

Doc and Kawhi get a bit of a pass because they have titles. As you note, not Paul George. Those of us who favored the Clippers did so because of defensive potential with all-league defender types like Kawhi, George, Beverley and Harrell. There's always internal issues and jealousies on teams that are covered up during the season, especially if a team is winning. Hey, what's the problem? We're 38-25? You're just trying to divide us!

It apparently leaked out some with Harrell challenging George during the Nuggets series, the overachieving guys from last season who happened to be paid much less certainly having reason to resent the new guys who played half the season to rest for the playoffs. The new rich guys despite being in the NBA's cone of silence apparently never got in good enough condition to finish games. George is an excellent talent and now gets the label of playoff flop. You know, the reputation Kyle Lowry had before last year. George just needs to be pushed a bit more to attack the basket and get to the line instead of settling for all those pullup threes. Though why should he be different from everyone else?


Russell Westbrook

Keanu Reeves:

How about the Bulls trade Otto Porter and the number 4 pick for Russell Westbrook?

Sam Smith:

Actually, the Rockets probably would do that. Though I assume this means you're a Rockets fan. There's probably not a more uncoachable player in the league than Westbrook. Yes, Westbrook is exciting to watch, but he never has been a player who has affected winning much. Though if you don't want Billy Donovan as Bulls coach I guess go through with that trade. Could you imagine the Bulls hiring Donovan and then, surprise, you get Westbrook again and can forget coaching.

I think Westbrook's teammates tend to like him, but the way he plays with that manic energy defeats just about every system. Plus, he's one of the league's worst three point shooters, averaging below 30 percent five of the last six seasons and now over 30 years old with three or four knee surgeries and, oh by the way, three more seasons on his $205 million contract and a season being paid $47 million three years from now when he's going on 34. How could anyone resist?


Jrue Holiday

Mike Werth:

The Brooklyn Nets supposedly are interested in trading for Jrue Holiday. The Nets reported offer is Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen, Dzanan Musa, and a protected 1st Round Pick.

Sam Smith:

No wonder LeBron went West. The East is going to be too tough to win. Holiday would be an impressive fit with Irving, especially, since he can play off the ball and guard all the guys Irving doesn't care to. I don't see New Orleans needing him any longer with their young team while the Nets prefer to play DeAndre Jordan because he's Durant's friend. Wonder if Steve Nash knows what he's getting into? Well, he won't need much coaching experience with these guys around to run the team.


Anthony Davis

Francesco Zix:

I keep reading about this Anthony Davis thing and I honestly don't understand why so many people are dreaming that this trade could actually happen. It doesn't seem logical to me, at all. He's playing in LA with LeBron James and it's his first season there. Now, I understand Los Angeles may not be the same city it used to be when Magic was around, but come on, why would he leave all that for Chicago, just because it's his hometown? That doesn't seem plausible to me. I feel like there were more chances of getting LeBron back in 2010 than there are of getting AD now. I don't like this trend of "star chase" that's been going on in the NBA for some years now, I'd rather see the Bulls working with the talent they have and maybe add a promising draft pick to the roster. Also, I'm not so sure AD would be the right star for the Bulls. He's definitely a star, but is he a leader? We're talking about coming to play with a group of young players without any playoffs (or winning) experience.

Sam Smith:

So if the Lakers win do we read that now that he has his title he can come home and be the mentor? Or if the Lakers don't win come home because LeBron is close to the end and there's not much there compared to the young Bulls core? So of course this never goes away. But I tend to agree it's not happening. The Bulls could only get him after this season through a sign and trade, and then it would cost so much Davis would be back like with the Pelicans. And the Lakers are hardly ever in the business of building other teams. Would Davis sign one year with the Lakers to escape after next season when the Bulls do have cap room? I expect given the economics about to change dramatically in the NBA with the absent fans that players will sign for as much money as they can as soon as they can. Which I expect means Davis taking a long deal this summer and Giannis getting his supermax and then seeing what the Bucks do and giving it one more chance before he says brats and cheese make him vomit and the Bucks have to trade him.


Toni Kukoc

Wayne Warner:

Maybe you already did this comparison... but how would you compare Deni Avdija to Toni Kukoc? Shooting, ball handling, defense, rebounding, capability to be a 6th man. I still hope for 2021, that the Bulls go with a 3 guard offense rotating White, LaVine, Dunn and Sato (And Harrison if resigned). Use Otto, Young, and Deni (if drafted) off the bench... with either Otto or Young traded mid season to a contending team when Deni is ready for more minutes

Sam Smith:

I have not and I would not. None of us really know enough about Avdija, who had some shaky shooting stats, though excusable given how young he is. Even if the Bulls stay and No. 4 and he's there it's unclear if the Bulls would take him. Meanwhile even at that age Toni was one of the great stars of a European game played at a higher level than Europe is now because the NBA still didn't appreciate the talent and level of play in Europe. Toni as a teenager became the best player in Europe. He sacrificed his game more than anyone among the Bulls for the 96-98 championship teams and is the most deserving player in the world not in the Basketball Hall of Fame. At 6-10, he was a natural point guard and facilitator with a great shot. Avdija looks like he can be a secondary ball handler off the wing, which the Bulls generally lack with Otto Porter Jr. injured so often and a free agent after next season.


Erik Spoelstra

Guy Danilowitz:

I don't really follow coach rankings but how great of a coach is Erik Spoelstra? Not too many I would rather have right now.

Sam Smith:

Well, the Heat have missed the playoffs three of the last five seasons with LeBron's departure and 8-11 in the playoffs since. But he and they sure look good now. He has been a very good coach for a long time. Not as great as they said when LeBron was there and winning two titles, but not as bad as the last few seasons. Credit Miami management for sticking with him when LeBron wanted him out and in good and bad times. That's a strength of Pat Riley as team president. He's Pat Riley and you're not. So who are any of us to doubt what he does?

Got a question for Sam?

Submit your question to Sam at asksam@bulls.com

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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